Planning to tour an assisted living community with your family? Kudos for turning the first page onto a new chapter of life. There’s a lot you can do to help your loved one make the best transition possible.
Walking into an assisted living community for the first time can feel overwhelming. There’s so much to consider: accommodations, staffing, food, care services – the list goes on.
That’s why we’ve put together this assisted living checklist for families to use on their first visit to a new community. These points should help you decide which assisted living community is right for your loved one.
Call it environment, atmosphere, or vibes; in any case, these points are about the overall feel of the community. A lot of this has to do with intuition, but there are also a few specific things to look for.
- Before you enter…
- Look at the grounds surrounding the community. Consider whether your loved one would feel comfortable sitting outdoors or walking the grounds. The property should be well-landscaped, with clear, safe paths and walkways.
- Listen to the sounds all around you. Gauge the noise level from passing traffic and try to pick up sounds that give clues about the character of the neighbourhood (like children playing, dogs barking, or police sirens.)
- When you first enter the main building…
- Look at the floor of the front entrance, especially if it’s autumn or winter. It should be cleaned at least daily.
- Look for seasonal décor that shows the community celebrates holidays and marks the passage of time.
- Wait for a staff member to greet you. If you have an appointment, someone should attend to you promptly. Some communities offer visitors refreshments while they wait; does this one?
- As you tour the community…
- Feel the temperature inside the building. Is it well-air conditioned in the summer, or sufficiently warm in the winter?
- Smell the air and take note of any odours, good or bad.
- Note the atmosphere produced by natural and artificial lighting.
- Listen for the sounds of liveliness: laughter, music, conversation. You want to hear more than the sound of a television.
2. Service Offerings
Different communities cater to individuals requiring varying needs and levels of care. If an assisted living community does not offer all the services your loved one needs, it’s essential that they can either bring a service provider on-site or provide transportation to one outside the community.
- Ask whether the community offers…
- Pharmaceutical services
- Massage therapy
- Physical therapy
- Memory care
- Find out…
- Whether there is an additional cost for any or all services
- How long your loved one must schedule an appointment in advance
- How to add services to your loved one’s care plan if their needs change
Your tour will likely include a visit to a vacant suite. Ask yourself: is this a place your loved one can call home?
- Are the suites…
- Single or double-occupancy?
- Smoking or non-smoking?
- Lockable from the inside?
- Can your loved one…
- Furnish and decorate the room as they wish?
- Have a pet living in the suite?
- Cook inside the suite?
- Bring food from the dining room into the suite?
- Does the suite have…
- A kitchenette with Safe Plug® appliances?
- Emergency call buttons at the bedside and in the bathroom?
- Telephone, internet and cable service?
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
4. Common Areas
Shared space is the heart of an assisted living community. It’s here where your loved one will make connections and spend most of their time during the day. Pay particular attention to rooms that relate to their hobbies and interests.
- Does the community have…
- Game room
- Library/reading room
- Home movie theatre
- Swimming pool/hot tub
- Computer room
- Community garden
- When you visit these areas…
- Notice the level of activity. Do the community members use the rooms, or are they only there “for show”?
- Look for clutter. Do the common areas look neat and tidy?
- Consider if the outdoor space is useable year-round. Are there shady areas for summer? Any outdoor heaters for winter?
5. Activities and Recreation
Staying active and engaged is essential to your loved one’s health and longevity. The days of leaving people in front of the television are over. Now, reputable assisted living communities offer a variety of recreational activities.
Ask to see a schedule of the community’s programming for the next few weeks, or better yet, sit in on an activity and observe.
- When you see the programming…
- Look for activities that suit your loved one’s abilities and interests. Are there several things they would enjoy?
- Look for variety. Are there activities to promote wellness, fitness and creativity?
- Ask about the newest activity on offer. How long ago was it added? Does the community add new activities often?
- When you sit in on an activity…
- Watch the community members. Are they engaged and interested?
- Watch the staff members. Are they leading the activity in a respectful and dignifying way?
It takes a special kind of person to provide exceptional care. The quality of the staff can make or break an assisted living community; you should have no unanswered questions or lingering doubts about them.
- While you’re touring the community…
- Smile and wave at people you pass. Do they smile and wave back?
- Watch how the staff and community members interact. Does the staff make eye contact and call people by name?
- Watch how the staff members interact with each other. Is their tone professional and respectful?
- Look the staff members up and down. Are they professionally-dressed and well-groomed?
- When you stop and speak to a staff member, ask how long they have worked there. Get answers from several people to glean the staff turnover rate.
- When you speak to the administrators…
- Ask about the staff-to-community member ratio both during the weekday and on evenings and weekends. Are there enough people to keep everyone safe in the event of an emergency?
- Ask about the vetting process. What do background checks consist of? Are the staff members required to have any certification?
- Ask about your loved one’s medical needs. Does the staff have experience with this condition?
It’s said that variety is the spice of life, and that is perhaps most true when it comes to meal times. Assisted living communities have come a long way in this regard. Today, many communities have shifted from a cafeteria-style dining room to restaurant-style service, complete with greater choice and better service overall.
- Ask the dining room staff…
- How often does the kitchen change up the menu?
- Are snacks and refreshments available as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner?
- Could guests join your loved one for meals?
- Does the dining room have assigned seating?
- Can you inspect the kitchen pantry and refrigerator?
- Could your loved one bring food from the dining room back to their suite and keep leftovers in their suite refrigerator?
8. Medical Needs
Every individual in assisted living has unique needs and circumstances. Regrettably, we cannot possibly create a checklist that covers every medical need; however, we can note some of the most common needs that may arise as your loved one continues to age.
- In discussing the community’s services…
- Find out how the community helps those who need assistance with the daily activities of living (ADL): getting dressed, bathing, brushing teeth, using the toilet, eating, walking, getting in and out of bed, etc.
- Ask about security measures. Does someone watch the doors to prevent individuals from wandering outside unattended? Are there lockdown procedures?
- Ask about meal times. Can they accommodate an individual with special dietary needs?
- Discuss the community’s medication management policies. Can you loved one take their medication in their apartment if they are able?
- As you tour the facility, notice…
- Room layouts and doorways that accommodate walkers or wheelchair access
- Handrails and benches in hallways
- Non-skid flooring throughout the community
- Accessible bathrooms
Print off this checklist and take it with you on your visit. Knowing what to look for and ask about can help to alleviate the stress of visiting an assisted living community for the first time.